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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Magnetically Charged Spots Suddenly Dot the Sun

Sun has suddenly generated an enormous sunspot region.

base images credit: SOHO/MDI

The sun has suddenly generated an enormous sunspot region, all in the vicinity of sunspot 1147. The sun is currently in solar cycle 24, which is now due to peak sometime during 2013. The solar sunspot activity has progressed in spurts of activity, although it has been much quieter than expectations lately.
Sunspot 1147 was originally very large by itself, however during the past 24 hours, lots of emerging spots of activity have been popping up around it.

Dr. Tony Philips from and science writer for NASA reports, “A rash of small spots is rapidly emerging near the main core of sunspot group 1147, and this could herald an increase in solar activity.”
The reason he states that this is interesting is because of the magnetic characteristics.
He goes on to say, “It is an evolving jumble of magnetic polarities, with positive (+) pressing against negative (-) in many places. These are favorable condition for magnetic reconnection and solar flares.”
The daily bulletin from the Solar Influences Data Center in Belgium states, “The sunspot group located near the central meridian has been growing. An additional bi-polar node popped up. A sunspot group in a phase of growth has a relatively higher possibility to flare.”

The image above loops through 8 of the SDO telescope channels, each of them looking at different temperature regions.
The images below show sunspot 1147 in more detail. The size of the overall region would fit 30 Earth’s! There are an amazing number of looping magnetic points, more than I’ve seen on a sunspot group in a long time.
It may produce flares, and is pointing our way over the next several days, but no one knows how powerful they could be. The current thinking are for C-class flares, which really won’t affect your life. But the sun has been known to surprise us now and again.
base image credit: SOHO/MDI

From a preparedness standpoint, the risk is all about our electrical power, and the systems that we depend upon that in turn require electricity.
Just because the current sunspot activity is low does not mean that earth could not be hit by a debilitating solar flare. The Carrington Event (1859), had it occurred during modern times, would have likely wreaked havoc on our societies and would have probably brought down many technological systems that we depend upon in our infrastructure, some we could not live without due to the millions who depend upon them to sustain systems that bring food and water, and more.
Our modern electrical grid for example has not been put to the test from a solar radiation impact event similar to 1859. At some point though, it will be put to the test. There is no argument from the scientific community on that. The question is, will it remain standing after it happens. Many think not. The modern world would be kicked back a century or two, for a period of time that some say could last for years.

In the mean time, observing solar events like the current sunspot 1147 phenomenon should remind us all of the sometimes unpredictable behavior of our life-giving ball of fire in the sky.

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